Monday, February 28, 2005

Poisoning of Young Minds

I don’t read Andrew Reeves’ blog as much as I would like to. Here is one of his posts that could serve as nice argument against all those who complain about too much violence in popular culture and their harmful effects on global youth.

Scorsese Loses Again

I must say that I’m not particularly disappointed with what many critics – especially those more snobbish - are likely to call “another Oscar disgrace”. So, Martin Scorsese failed again to win “Oscar” and his status of one of the greatest American filmmakers isn’t confirmed with a golden statue.

I think that Scorsese indeed deserved “Oscar”, but not for The Aviator.

The most annoying “Oscar” winners – and those most likely to sink into oblivion – are Hollywood movies made with the sole purpose of getting “Oscars”. The Aviator fits that profile. The actual winner, Million Dollar Baby, also fits that profile but slightly better screenplay and significantly better quality of acting makes Academy’s choice less annoying. Personally, I rooted for Sideways, although I knew that that little film didn’t stand a chance. I hoped against hope that Virginia Madsen could pull small miracle and win Best Supporting Role Award, but I wasn’t disappointed to see Cate Blanchett get it instead.

I watched only bits of the ceremony so my impressions are sketchy. Morgan Freeman again confirmed his reputation of the classiest Hollywood actor while he received an award in the most dignified way. I’m also pleased with the Motorcycle Diaries song getting “Oscar” – it was the best, and the author showed great ingenuity while receiving his award.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Sanader Receives Gift from the East

Last few weeks were quite bad for Ivo Sanader’s government. Despite relentless lobbying efforts – Sanader even bothered to visit ailing Pope John Paul II in order to get support – EU still sends mixed signals over March 17th as the coveted starting day for EU accession negotiations.

And if Croatia doesn’t get green light on March 17th, Sanader’s party is going to get clobbered at the local elections with serious implications not only for its paper-thin majority in Sabor, but also for Sanader himself, recently deprived of its chief allies within HDZ. Deputy prime minister Andrija Hebrang, who championed Tudjmanist hard-line nationalism while remaining absolutely loyal to Sanader to the bitter end, had to leave because of poor health. Foreign minister Miomir Žužul (Miomir Zuzul) was forced out because of corruption scandal and views which were too pro-American for Croatian public. Jadranka Kosor, which was supposed to symbolise new “gentler, kinder” and “European” face of HDZ ceased to be an asset following disastrous presidential run.

The only thing that will keep Sanader afloat is the fact that his nominal rivals – President Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic) and former prime minister Ivica Račan (Ivica Racan) – also invested too much of their own political capital into Croatian EU dream to let it turn into nightmare. After brief outburst of post-election verbal revanchism, Mesić has switched back into cohabitation mode and supports Sanader’s EU policy at every opportunity. Račan (Racan) not only enthusiastically embraced Sanader’s plan to have opposition cadre fill the highly coveted posts in Croatian EU negotiations team (and thus allow opposition to share some of Sanader’s EU triumph later on) but also all but confirmed his intention to form Grand Coalition with Sanader.

First moves of their ad hoc alliance have been directed towards Brussels. They are desperately trying to show that Croatia is really serious about apprehending Ante Gotovina, Croatian Army general who is indicted by ICTY for war crimes and whose arrest and extradition is explicitly mentioned as condition for the start of negotiations. In past three years, the official line of Croatian governments – Račan’s and Sanader’s – was that the General went missing and that Croatian police is unable to find his whereabouts. In the meantime, Gotovina became folk hero and icon for all right-wing and hard-line Croatians. Official Croatia did little to counter this image, including Mesić whose attempt to fight ICTY indictment through combination of diplomacy and certain shady characters turned into PR disaster that could have ended his presidency. Sanader, who owes his return to power, among other things, to the pro-Gotovina stance of HDZ electorate, also waited until the last minute to change the tune about fugitive general – the policies he pushes now are so different from those he had advocated on 150,000-men anti-Hague rally in Split four years ago.

So, Mesić and Sanader issued a joint and very public order to Croatian police and security services, demanding “intensification of all efforts to apprehend General Ante Gotovina”. Two days ago, Zagreb Court very conveniently sentenced Zagreb businessman Hrvoje Petrač (Hrvoje Petrac) –suspected of financing of Gotovina’s escape – to six years over his role in kidnapping case. Petrač is sentenced in absentia, which is, of course, very convenient for all those who would like him to keep quiet about other important financiers or his activities having state blessing. Even the image of Gotovina as hero is under attack – some Croatian media have very conveniently published details of Gotovina’s pre-war biography, including long prison sentences in France for armed robbery and similar kinds of crimes. President Mesić, of course, expressed shock over these revelations “that give completely different picture of Gotovina” despite the fact that he was supposed to be one of the most informed men in the country.

Those efforts, regardless how insincere they may look to the more cynical observers, represent something of an improvement over past three years. It remains to be seen whether Sanader’s EU backers are going to be impressed. Croatians are, apparently, not. Latest opinion poll by Večernji list (Vecernji list) shows that some 64 % of Croatians believe that the negotiations won’t start on March 17th. And even if they start, that doesn’t mean that March 17th represents the end of Sanader’s problems or that Croatians will see it as some kind of triumph. According to the same poll, around 47 % of Croatians are in favour of Croatia joining EU, while 36 % are against. This means that there are still more Europhiles than Eurosceptics among Croatians, but EU support being under magic 50 % mark is enough to send shivers down the spines of overwhelmingly Europhilic political, business, cultural and media establishment in Croatia.

All this represents bad news for Sanader, but yesterday something happened that would bring smile on his face. In Belgrade, group of 40 Croatian Serb refugees, gathered in Dom Sindikata hall and founded what they call “Parliament of Republika Srpska Krajina” in exile. The members were the last representatives of legislative body that was in charge of Serb-controlled areas in Croatia before Operation Storm and Erdut Treaty. The “Parliament” has elected new government-in-exile led by Milorad Buha. They issued statement calling former “Krajina” territories “occupied” and demanding that Croatia shouldn’t be allowed into EU, because it was created through “ethnic cleansing” and “denying Serb people their right of self-determination”.

This was great opportunity for Sanader to look statesman-like and give statement in which reminded Croatian people of what many believe to be Croatia’s greatest triumph. He said that “Greater Serbia was dead thanks to magnificent Operation Storm” and that the “time for such fantasies has passed”. Since it is unlikely that EU will listen to such suggestions from Belgrade, Sanader can present that as another great Croatian victory – which springs from the one which was achieved under his late boss Tudjman. Reminding Croatian people of what lies in the east was good technique to make them forget about more important problems in the west.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

New Split Newspaper

Despite Internet, despite relatively large number of radio stations and despite the presence of four local TV stations (TV Jadran, STV, TV Dalmacija and Kanal 5) and despite the decades-long hegemony of Slobodna Dalmacija over local media markets, someone decided to invest into another Split weekly newspaper. Today appeared the first issue of Splitske Novine.

First impressions are mostly positive. Instead of trying to push stories you are more likely to find better covered in the likes of Globus, Nacional and Feral Tribune, this newspaper is oriented towards strictly local issues. The articles are dealing with City of Split annual budget, local schools, theatres, traffic problems and other aspects of local life.

In many ways, this newspaper reminds me of Dan, semi-weekly local newspaper run by Joško Kulušić (Josko Kulusic), former editor-in-chief of Slobodna Dalmacija. The newspaper was good read but, unfortunately, got extinguished after Kulušić’s death in 1998.

Whether this newspaper will survive remains to be seen. So far, their website is still under construction, unlike Matija Babić’s (Matija Babic’s) 24 sata, which has started getting feedback from potential readers a week before its official launch on the newsstands.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Socially Unacceptable Family

What some Croatian media called “Trial of the Century” has ended in Zagreb today. Group of people was sentenced for their role in the kidnapping of Tomislav Zagorac, son of General Vladimir Zagorac. Among people sentenced was Hrvoje Petrač (Hrvoje Petrac), controversial businessman currently on the run, and his son Novica Petrač, who is going to spend next two and half years behind bars - one years spent in detention counts as a part of his 3,5-year sentence received today.

Croatian judiciary, unlike in many other cases, acted with unusual swiftness. It took only a year for the criminal process to be completed. Petračs are likely to appeal, but it is unlikely for their appeals to end as favourably as in the case of young Primorac, because their family, at least for now, is not “socially acceptable”.

Many speculate that the real reason for Petračs’ fall from grace is related to March 17th - the date that hangs over Ivo Sanader’s head like the sword of Damocles. Sanader’s government is trying everything in order to give impression of seriously pursuing General Ante Gotovina. That includes going after people accused of financing Gotovina’s escape and Hrvoje Petrač - whose links with General were enough to brand him persona non grata by EU – is the perfect scapegoat. Today’s sentence should silence all the sceptics within EU that still accuse Sanader and President Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic) of being in cahoots with Gotovina.

Brave Old World

As time goes by, I, just like so many people, tend to replace youthful radicalism with pragmatic conservatism that comes with age. So, I have less and less sympathies to all those who think that the revolution represents a recipe for some or all of the social problems and that the world could be a better place with certain set of characters being introduced to the nearest wall or a lamppost.

However, there comes a time when you can feel certain sympathy towards those who have such views. For me such time came yesterday, when I heard about one court ruling. It coincided with the big media story unfolding in City of Rijeka few days ago.

On Monday, 36-year old war veteran Josip Šarić (Josip Saric) has stormed Rijeka City building armed with AK-47 assault rifle and two hand grenades. He managed to reach mayor Veljko Obersenel and members of his City Directorate, just when they were holding conference in a presence of TV cameraman. Šarić used this golden opportunity to take everyone hostage and express his grievances – originating in his disastrous bid at real estate speculation and City’s re-zoning – in front of the world. He called Obersnel (who, to his ultimate credit, was incredibly calm) and his staff all kinds of names, accusing them for corruption and ruining Little Guy. Šarić has surrendered to the police after an hour and half, saying that he was aware that he would spend some time in jail but he also promised that he would “finish the job with RPGs” when he gets released.

At first, some people in Croatia applauded Šarić for his action, calling him brave, expressing sympathy for his plight and expressing wide-spread opinion that the judiciary and administration in Croatia was so incompetent and corrupt that people like Šarić had no option other than fighting for their rights in such brutal and spectacular fashion. But the initial sympathies were quickly extinguished with the barrage of media commentators abhorring violence and making convincing case that Šarić’s action couldn’t be tolerated in civilised society. Court in Rijeka, unlike some other Croatian courts that looked the other way in some similar but less spectacular cases, accepted that argument and Šarić is going to spend at least a month behind bars before the end of judicial investigation.

The argument that the judicial system – no matter how incompetent or corrupt – is better alternative to vigilantism has been seriously undermined with news reported in today’s Jutarnji list.

It all started on October 29th 2002 when two 16-year old girls – Kata Andrijašević (Kata Andrijasevic) and Ana Erceg –were hit by speeding BMW Z 3 in the very centre of Makarska and were instantly killed as a result. The driver, 17-year old Ivan Primorac, was quickly apprehended, because his BMW Z 3 – bought by a father for 16th birthday – was very familiar to traffic police, which had him cited for at least five traffic violations. Since the boy’s father happened to be Marijan Primorac, one of 10 richest men in Herzegovina and, therefore, one of the richest men in Croatia proper, few people were surprised to find subsequent trial dragging for years. By October 2004, when the boy received 2 years minor prison sentence at Makarska Municipal Court, he had spent much of the time in a private board school in Switzerland. The verdict caused minor outrage among Croatian public.

However, the real outrage occurred yesterday, when Split County Court ruled on appeal. Just as it had been predicted, the sentence was reduced to two years. However, the official explanation for the reduction of sentence, signed by Vinko Cuzzi, one of Split County Court justices, is the most interesting, to say the least.

Court, instead of using conventional arguments for reduction of guilt – poverty, broken home, parental abuse, mental illness or substance abuse – went in completely different direction. Ivan Primorac’s sentence should be reduced because he came from “socially acceptable family”.

In other words, having rich and influential father isn’t the reason enough for a youth to be treated leniently; it should also be confirmed by a state-sanctioned legal opinion as such.

Therefore, if this opinion becomes part of Croatian law through precedent – and, judging by the way Croatian judiciary operates, there aren’t reasons to believe it won’t – certain sections of Croatian society will enjoy preferential treatment at the courts solely because they belong to “socially acceptable families”. This law will, consequently, be applied to other areas of Croatian public life, broadening the state-sanctioned divisions on Croatian citizens to those who belong to “socially acceptable families” and those who don’t.

And, needless to say, what used to be merely an informal class system is going to be state-sanctioned caste system in which feudal lords – nouveau riche who had created their wealth in Tudjman’s era – and their progeny have power of life and death over serfs and commoners.

And it wouldn’t the first time citizens’ equality – one of the tenets of Croatian Constitution – is undermined in such way. Croatian courts and administration have systematically denied human and civil rights to large segment of Croatian population – ethnic Serb minority. While such treatment could be understood and, to a certain degree, even justified in the context of 1991-95 war, now it appears that it had established a precedent that would be applied on ethnic Croatians, in other words – majority that doesn’t belong to “socially acceptable families”.

And majority, which is now in the process of losing what it had thought to be its inalienable rights, could respond in a way Josip Šarić responded.

(On a related note, Slobodna Dalmacija, unlike other Croatian daily newspapers, didn’t print the name of Ivan Primorac in its article. Some may conclude that Marijan Primorac has a quite a lot of clout in Dalmatia, including its allegedly free media.)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Another First Thing

There is first time for everything. According to some media reports, another thing happened in Croatia for the first time. Producers of Villa Maria, Croatia’s first television soap opera, have decided to increase realism and “relevance” of their show by having some of the scenes shot on real locations. One of them is Saloon Club in Zagreb, where they added to the realism by having Boris Mikšić (Boris Miksic), Minnesota businessman and candidate for Croatian presidency at the last elections, in cameo role.

According to my knowledge, this represents the very first time in which Croatian politician – or any celebrity, for that matter – appears as cameo in television drama or feature film.

It remains to be seen when the actual episode is going to be aired. Mikšić, whose presidential run has brought instant fame among average Croatians, but also an enmity of political and cultural establishment, has announced that he would try to win the post of Zagreb mayor on upcoming local elections. The elections are going to be held in April or May.

If Villa Maria episode featuring Mikšić is aired during the campaign, it is almost certain that some may interpret it as pro-Mikšić propaganda and claim that state-run HRT, where the show is aired, breaks electoral laws.

This cameo role is probably not going to be much of a help Mikšić much. And Mikšić needs help these days, at least when he characters like these as his outspoken supporters.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

RIP Mladen Delić (Mladen Delic) (1919 – 2005)

"People, is this possible? What is this? Madhouse!"

These immortal words are forever associated with one of the most dramatic moment in the history of sports in former Yugoslavia. More than two decades ago Yugoslav and Bulgarian team were playing European Soccer Championship qualification game at Poljud Stadium in Split. In the very last moment of the game Yugoslavia has scored a goal thus qualifying for the Championship.

But few people remember the man who scored the goal or the Championship. Everyone remembers Mladen Delić, legendary sports commentator who covered that very moment on television. Delić was one of the oldest and most experienced television professionals in Croatia. He was the first one to comment a soccer game for television in 1957, and he would later have 1500 various sports commentaries in his resume. Known for his temperament, Delić was able to transform the most pedestrian sports event into an epic drama. And he was wise enough to retire soon after his greatest moment of glory. His words later entered vocabularies of former Yugoslavia and got sampled into rap songs.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Another Hollywood Rape of History

No, I’m not referring to something as obvious as Gibson’s Braveheart, Bruckheimmer’s King Arthur or plans to cast Hale Berry as Nefertiti.

I recently watched Phantom of the Opera, Joel Schumacher’s version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s popular stage musical. I’ll try not to spoil you anything. Let’s just say that one small, almost unnoticeable detail ruined the whole experience to anyone remotely familiar with certain very important events in 19th Century Europe.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Confessions of A Dangerous Mind

Today’s instalment of Nedjeljom u 2, talk show on HRT, represented 60 minutes that should enter into future textbooks of Croatian television history. Yet those 60 minutes were incredibly entertaining and profoundly disturbing at the same time.

In past few years Aleksandar Stanković (Aleksandar Stankovic), show’s host, developed quite a reputation for his hostile but also a very effective treatment of his guests. But this reputation was slightly downgraded in past months when some of the guests, apparently after reading his act, came to the show well-prepared and gave him a good intellectual drubbing.

But not today. This time Stanković was confident that would make a short work of his guest, but what occurred today exceeded everyone’s expectations.

The guest was Professor Dr. Damir Buković (Damir Bukovic), one of Croatia’s leading gynaecologists and oncology experts. He was the most outspoken in the group of Catholic physicians warning the women of cancer risks that multiply with in vitro fertilisation.

Buković isn’t exactly the unknown name in Croatia. His finest hour was in 1997 when he was elected for Zagreb City Council on HSS ticket. That party was part of anti-Tudjman opposition coalition which had unsuccessfully tried to have its mayor in Zagreb after winning city elections in October 1995. Tudjman, using his presidential prerogatives, repeatedly refused to confirm any of opposition candidates elected for mayor. In 1997 HDZ was two council seats short of majority that would end this embarrassing situation. Buković was one two HSS councilmen who defected from opposition and voted for Tudjman’s favourite Marina Matulović-Dropulović (Marina Matulovic-Dropulic). Although he got his reward in the form of prestigious hospital administration post, Buković remained out of public spotlight until re-emerging as anti-IVF crusader.

During the show Buković, at least initially, tried to present himself as passionate defender of Catholic values in Croatian medicine. For him “the Bible is the best source of all medical knowledge”. After he continued to explain that not only IVF, but sexual promiscuity also contributes to the spread of cancer among women. He also followed the official Church line on condoms – they aren’t “100% safe” and are, consequently, worthless both as contraceptive and as a prophylactic. His views on masturbation are somewhat less radical – while it is “harmless among men”, it can create some health problems among women, although not “as severe as cancer and promiscuity”.

This sort of ultra-conservative mindset isn’t uncommon in Croatia, even among people who are viewed as intellectuals. Therefore, those views weren’t some kind of earth-shattering revelation – in Tudjman’s Croatia they were all but state-sanctioned social policy.

However, those ultra-conservative views are somewhat difficult to connect with certain details of Buković’s biography. During the show it was revealed that he had been remarried and when asked about, he said that he didn’t think of his second marriage (without previous being Church-annulled) as anything contrary to his religious beliefs. It was also revealed that he was not only a Party member during the good old days – which was, again, incompatible with Catholicism – but actually a Party secretary in charge of all Party members in one of Zagreb’s hospital. During the show he took great pride in the fact that he had personally shut down Party organisation in 1990, after the first democratic elections, apparently unaware how the viewers might interpret his last-minute conversion. He also used the show as the opportunity to boast about being well-off in the old system and owning a sports car at the very beginning of his career. The only trace of regret was in his admission that he had performed abortions.

It was very entertaining to watch those all those confessions, especially when it became apparent that Buković was blissfully unaware about ruining his reputation with each sentence coming from his mouth. But such catastrophic (self)destruction on national airwaves was accompanied with a sense of horror, at least among those who saw Buković in the broader context of modern Croatia. What looks like an entertaining aberration on television is the standard way of thinking in most of Croatian offices.

Things (Not) To Come

It seems that the controversial law banning shops from working on Sundays was just a test for Catholic Church. Apparent failure of the law – it was struck down by Constitutional Court few months after being passed in Sabor – didn’t discourage Church officials from pushing for even more ambitious legislation.

Few weeks ago Church officials in Croatia open the first salvo in their PR campaign by issuing an official statement condemning the practice of in vitro fertilisation. Soon afterwards, group of Croatian doctors calling themselves Asociation of Catholic Physicians stated that the children conceived that way were more likely to be deformed and women who subject themselves to such procedure would have 1900 % more risk of developing cancer.

Soon after that it was discovered that one of the brochures endorsing such views referred to children conceived in vitro as “things” instead of human beings.

Under normal circumstances, this kind of discourse would have created full-blown culture war in Croatia. Feminist groups, NGOs, liberal section of Croatian media and scientific establishment did react, but public in general didn’t pay much of an attention, being engrossed in series of other scandals that just happen to erupt in these times.

Needless to say, when Church starts talking this talk, many people in Croatian political establishment are walking the appropriate walk.

In March, National Bio-ethics Commission, expert body which helps government in creating medical legislation, is about to vote on the recommendation for new laws covering in vitro fertilisation and similar issues. The present legislation covering that area dates from 1978, when Croatia used to be under Communism. Sanader’s government has agreed to make new legislation and even agreed on proposed bill to be sent to Sabor, but Sanader, apparently after some “friendly persuasion” from Men in Black, decided to make additional changes after consulting with National Bio-ethics Commission.

According to statements by Commission member, dr. Ante Ćorušić (Ante Corusic), majority within the Commission is most likely to recommend radical change in current in vitro practices. Donation of sperm, eggs and embryos is going to be banned. Only couples who are married or live in “extramarital unions recognised by court” – the latter would include only heterosexuals – will be allowed to have in vitro procedures.

So, if Ćorušić has his way, lesbians, single women or straight couples when one of spouses is completely sterile will not have any legal chance of having children.

Ćorušić has not only government’s support – more tacit than in previous time, though – but even some arguments on his side. For a long time, Croatian liberals in their struggle with conservative used very simple mantra – any socially conservative legislation is un-European and would, consequently, block Croatia from entering EU. Ćorušić is now in position to counter this argument very easily. In neighbouring Italy Berlusconi’s government has recently passed equally restrictive legislation.

This new legislation is very likely to pass for two reasons. Sanader needs Church in order to mobilise rural and conservative voters for the local elections. If they stay at home or – which is even more dangerous – vote on their local and tribal interests rather than on party line, HDZ is going to suffer embarrassing defeat. If EU doesn’t start accession negotiations in March, embarrassment will turn into catastrophe.

Sanader is going to secure the passage of legislation with a same way he secured his HDZ chairmanship – by presenting himself as a moderate and liberal alternative to something much worse. The proposed changes are likely to more radical than those which are ultimately going to be passed in Sabor. That would allow HDZ to look as “serious”, “moderate” and “European” party that listens to the voice of liberal public.

One such manoeuvre is already happening. Zvonimir Šeparović (Zvonimir Separovic), Commission vice-chairman, legal scholar and former Tudjman’s foreign minister (and failed candidate on 2000 elections) gave statement to Slobodna Dalmacija hinting that the changes would include what amounts to Holy Grail for Croatian conservatives – ban on abortion. Šeparović wasn’t that radical – after saying that for him the life started for conception, he stated that the present law was “too liberal” and that some restrictions should be “considered”.

Andrija Hebrang, former health minister and champion of Tudjmanist hard-line right within HDZ, quickly reacted (and surprised many) by voicing his strong opposition to the ban. This was very good thing for Sanader – as former Sanader loyalist, Hebrang is likely to present “gentler and kinder” face to Croatian liberals; as someone who had to leave his post for health reasons, Hebrang doesn’t have enough clout to seriously offend Sanader’s conservative allies.

Therefore, it is unlikely that abortion will be banned, at least not this time. But the path has been cleared for a disturbing scenario of Croatian future in which society would favour unwanted over wanted children. And, just like in Space: Above and Beyond, children brought to this world in “improper” way are going to be referred as “things”, “non-humans” and discriminated. Or worse.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Alien Janica

Those who attribute success of Janica Kostelić (Janica Kostelic) to some kind of her extraterrestrial qualities are probably going too far. Her victories on the ski slopes could be explained with good old things like hard work and strength of character. But there is something definitely alien when it comes to her handling of fame, at least when compared with the rest of Croatian jet set.

Few days ago Croatian Olympic Committee made suggestion to City of Zagreb officials. One of the main streets in Croatian capital should bear the name of Janica Kostelić. If this suggestion is accepted, that would represent a precedent in independent Croatia. Josip Broz Tito, leader of Communist Yugoslavia, is the only person that had Zagreb street with his name while alive.

When asked about initiative, Janica said that she felt "honoured" but she also expressed doubt about this honour being “appropriate for someone with only 23 years of age”.

RIP Dan O’Herlihy (1919 – 2005)

He had many wonderful roles in his long career, but for me he will always be Old Man in Robocop.

Friday, February 18, 2005

New Paths of Glory

According to Croatian magazine Arena, Severina Vučković (Severina Vuckovic) is on a way to become a “proper” movie star. After Lordan Zafranović (Lordan Zafranovic), Ahmed Švrakić (Ahmed Svrakic) is another filmmaker to offer her a role in prestigious movie project. The movie titled Duhovi Sarajeva (Ghosts of Sarajevo) is supposed to have cast made of “anyone who means something in Sarajevo”. Severina apparently belongs to that category.

In the meantime, it is becoming apparent that Severina served as a role model for many young people in this part of the world. They saw all brouhaha created by the tape and concluded that such tapes represent the best – and for many the only – way of getting public attention, fame and fortune.

Scandal over gay list in Zagreb coincided with the release of another sex tape to Internet. One young man and one young woman –students housed in Zagreb students’ dorm in Šara (Dara) – have decided to record some of their extracurricular activities camera and asked another female student to assist them with camera. Result of those efforts quickly appeared on the Internet and while the students face disciplinary action over the use of dorm Internet facilities for “inappropriate purposes” the interest for the tape among Croatian Web surfers became almost insatiable.

In neighbouring Serbia few high school students decided to help their compatriot Suzana Mančić (Suzana Mancic) by staging something that should outshine Ms. Mančić’s tape. Group of 16-year old girls - students of Legal and Bureau-technic School in Zemun - was apparently very bored during one of their classes so they decided to stage show that included strip tease and simulated lesbian activity. The images were recorded on digital camera and quickly appeared on a certain website in Germany. Croatian media is all over the news, and many of magazines and news portals apparently were so enthusiastic of those images that they disregarded any possibility of some overzealous officials treating those pictures like child pornography.

Those problems probably won’t bother those who watch the film announced by Nives Zeljković (Nives Zeljkovic) a.k.a. Nives Celzijus. Former Playboy model and aspiring “turbo folk” singer – who makes Ceca look and sound like Maria Callas in comparison – has realised that her music career reached dead end, at least if some drastic measures aren’t taken. In her case those drastic measures included having sex with British pop star Jamiroquai and recording it on tape. According to Serbian newspaper Blic, the tape is going to create “havoc” within the world’s jet set.


The blogging might be very light due to certain technical issues I have to deal with over the weekend.

A Hit For Desperate Network?

Last year was very bad for Nova TV. After being serious competition for state-run HRT and leaving RTL Televizija far behind, this station has lost its lofty position on Croatian TV market in couple of months. They changed the owner, most of its stars have defected to other two stations and the programme which once had almost all the best American and British TV shows is now only the shadow of its former self.

Only in recent months Nova TV showed some signs of trying to restore its position. Those efforts, however, weren't that successful. The most spectacular – interview with Ceca – turned into the most embarrassing fiasco possible. The second one – Laku noć Hrvatska (Laku noc Hrvatska) – daily cartoon show making fun of Croatian politicians and celebrities – at least went on the air, but it also showed inability of its creators to maintain the quality of humour for the long time. Bad time slot didn't help either.

However, Nova TV recently scored a victory that might, with some help, change its long-time fortune once again. After merciless bidding war Nova TV took away broadcasting rights for Desperate Housewives from HRT and RTL Televizija. First episode of the show, heavily promoted in Croatian media, premiered tonight.

I watched the first episode and I wasn't particularly impressed. There was some humour but I'm not sure that I will continue to watch the show regularly.

And Nova TV also managed to spoil their last triumph with some interesting gaffes. The most obvious is the way they translated the title. Instead of Očajne kućanice (Ocajne kucanice) they used Kućanice - or Housewives. I guess the station executives thought that it was difficult to market the show with the word "desperate" as a comedy or something that the average Croatian would like to watch in order to escape reality.

Another blunder occurred when Nova TV teletext described Sheryl Lee as the show's narrator. I guess that many of those expecting to see Laura Palmer of Twin Peaks fame got quite a surprise in the form of space ship captain from Starship Troopers. Sheryl Lee had appeared in the original and later discarded pilot, but that doesn't justify Nova TV – it could have its promotional materials updated.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

European Dream Downgraded

One of biggest problems for Ivo Sanader is in very limited personnel base from which he can recruit ministers. HDZ has many members willing to get posts in his cabinet, but very few are loyal enough for Sanader. Another problem is apparent unwillingness of HDZ cadre to get posts which could bring immediate public disdain. Health ministry under Andrija Hebrang was apparently in such bad shape that few people volunteered for the ministerial post after Hebrang’s resignation. Seven prospective candidates – four prominent physicians and three MSes – turned Sanader down before Neven Ljubičić (Neven Ljubicic) agreed and thus allowed Sanader to finish his first major cabinet reconstruction.

Another part of the reconstruction is appointment of Damir Polančec (Damir Polancec), former top executive of Podravka, one of Croatia’s major food production companies, for deputy prime minister in charge of economy.

The third and the most important part of today’s reconstruction is also the most controversial one. Sanader had to find a replacement for Miomir Žužul (Miomir Zuzul), his loyal foreign minister forced to resign after corruption scandal that exploded before the presidential elections. Of course, that replacement had to be both competent – because Sanader’s survival depends on the success of EU accession negotiations – and loyal – because Sanader can’t allow any rival faction to claim that success for himself.

Brilliant solution was found in Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic), relatively young and relatively popular minister of European integrations. She is nice-looking, embodies everything “hip” and “European” in Sanader’s “kinder and gentler” HDZ, during her mandate she didn’t do anything to make anyone in Croatia particularly angry and, last but not least, isn’t associated with anyone or anything that could jeopardise Sanader’s position within HDZ.

So, Sanader chose to name her as Žužul’s successor. That left with another problem – whom to put in her place. Sanader came with another brilliant solution. He simply fused Foreign Ministry and Ministry of European Integrations which is, from today on, to function as Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integrations.

Sanader had safe majority in Sabor to push all those changes through, but opposition couldn’t resist the temptation to interpret them as a sign of Sanader’s weakness and incompetence. They claim that the fusion of two ministry means that the whole idea of Croatia joining European integrations is downgraded from something in the domain of domestic policy and foreseeable future into something in the domain of foreign policy and not so foreseeable future.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Burning Bridges

More than two years ago I blogged about Dr. Ivo Banac and wrote that his take-over of LS leadership was a bad idea. Qualities that make someone a great scholar and respected Feral Tribune columnist aren’t exactly qualities that guarantee success in the world of Croatian politics.

His taking over Ministry of Urbanism and Environmental Protection during the last months of Ivica Račan’s (Ivica Racan’s) government wasn’t good idea either.

LS lost elections together with SDP and later succumbed to another split, this time over something which was actually a good idea – fusing LS, Libra and HNS into one big centre party. Ivo Banac didn’t handle that very well and, consequently, lost party chairmanship to Zlatko Benašić (Zlatko Benasic), representative of faction that seems to favour alliance with more right-wing parties like HSLS and HDZ.

Few days ago Banac, apparently disgusted with the way LS switched direction, abandoned the party and called all members who share his views to do the same.

Despite the calls of LS to “do the decent thing” – resign and turn his seat to the loyal representative of the party under which ticket he had been elected – he decided to remain in Sabor as independent representative.

Few days before that, HNS and Libra fused into new party – thus turning part of Ivo Banac’s dream into reality. The logical for Banac was, therefore, to join this new party.

He, however, refused to do it and found pretty a good excuse in the very same phenomenon that had led to the LS fiasco – local politics. LS, despite aggressively left-leaning and anti-Tudjmanist on national level, was co-operating and forming coalitions with HDZ in local and regional assemblies. Because Banac had little understanding for the material and other needs of LS rank-and-file, this was always the source of tensions within the party.

Now Banac, to his horror, realised that HNS – one of the most vocal opposition party – and HSLS, increasingly right-wing party which supports Sanader’s government – are in the process of a major deal before upcoming local and regional elections. HNS is prepared to support HSLS candidate Ivan Čehok (Ivan Cehok) for the mayor of Varaždin (Varazdin). HSLS, in return, will support former Radimir Čačić (Radimir Cacic), former Varaždin mayor and one of HNS most prominent leaders, in his bid for the seat of Varaždin County governor.

For Banac this kind of horse-trading was unacceptable and Banac expressed in such way that would hardly win him any sympathies within HNS leadership. It is very likely that for Banac this term in Sabor is hist last.

Gays Rescuing Sanader?

February seems to be very bad month for Ivo Sanader.

Last year, his government launched tens millions of taxpayer’s kunas worth of PR campaign which was supposed to make those very taxpayers more aware of the ways they can contact with the government. In practicality this awareness was achieved through posters and ads describing all kinds of wonderful things that happened since Sanader coming to power. The highlights described Croatia securing its path to EU and stopping the increase of foreign debts.

Of course, the start of that PR campaign just happened to coincide with the start of presidential elections.

Few days ago it was revealed that Croatian foreign debt rose to unbelievable 30 billion US$. Quarter of century ago similar revelation - 20 billion US$ of foreign debts – served as catalyst for disintegration of former Yugoslavia. Even with inflation taken into account, this seems a lot, especially considering that Croatia has approximately one fifth of former Yugoslav population.

And Croatia’s path to EU seems everything but secure. EU ministers were very clear – unless Ante Gotovina appears in Hague (and, baring some last-minute, nobody expects he will) accession negotiations, scheduled for March 17th, are going to be postponed until October. All prospects about Croatia becoming part of EU before Turkey are going to be dashed.

Sanader, therefore, failed miserably as Croatian prime minister, but at least people gave him credit for being much more democratic than its former boss Tudjman. But it doesn’t take much for Tudjman’s party, including its leader, to return to their old ways. Denis Latin, host of Latinica talk show at HRT, state-rumn television station, learned that yesterday when he saw his latest episode censored. The show, which had origins of individual wealth as its topic, was supposed to include report about Ivo Sanader being involved in some questionable activities in 1990s – business deals with most notorious of Tudjman’s cronies and violent evictions of old ladies. However, when the show aired, the report was cut. Later it was revealed that the order came from the top of HRT after few visits by the top officials of Sanader’s government. Latin announced that he would quit his job and called this practice “media terrorism”.

But few people in Croatia are going to talk about those subjects, because apparently phantom list of Croatian gays has reigns supreme over Croatian public curiosity. Iskorak, gay rights NGO, which had used the whole brouhaha as another example of homophobia is downplaying the whole affair after setting up special hotline to give information to people who were scared of being on the list. Today the list’s author – 31-year old man, who is, allegedly, prominent gay activist and member of Iskorak – gave statement to police and claimed by that the list was stolen and later put to Internet by a friend. Iskorak, in the meantime, revised the number of the people from the list from some 800 to 350, with “only 91 being listed under full names”.

Unlike L'Affaire Severina, which became an actual ground-breaking event, this list is most likely to become Croatian urban legend. There are already conspiracy theories that the list never existed and that the whole affair was a clever ploy to give extra publicity to Iskorak. Others point to Sanader who apparently also benefited from the affair. In this day and age most intimate details of someone’s personal life are more likely to get public attention than the more mundane things like decaying economy, major foreign policy fiasco or curbing media and other constitutional freedoms.

Fame, Infamy and Violent Hollywood Movies

There are so many stories unfolding in Croatia today, and so little time to blog about them.

One of them began on Saturday night in one apartment building in Zagreb. From one of the apartments came the strange noise and a neighbour came to complain about it. There he saw two university students - 23-year old Dragan Jung from Labin and 21-year old Masimo Kršulj (Masimo Krsulj) from Rabac – stabbing and hacking 22-year old Ante Vukelić (Ante Vukelic), who was tied to the chair. In the ensuing commotion Vukelić tried to escape only to jump from the fifth floor and die; Kršulj fled the scene while the neighbour managed to detain Jung before the arrival of police. Kršulj was arrested by police few hours later. In the meantime, Damir Jung confessed another murder – in May 2001 he killed 77-year old Marija Knapić (Marija Knapic), his grandmother’s neighbour.

So far, this is the most notorious crime that had occurred in Croatia in 2005. Some of the details are likely to bring even more notoriety. Apparently, despite the murder being premeditated, young Vukelić was killed without any particularly rational reason. All three men were friends, good students and, at least according to the statements of their friends, colleagues and relatives, weren’t involved in drugs. But some time ago all three plotted to rob a petrol station. Then, after some time, Kršulj claimed that he had all those discussions recorded on tape. Jung and Vukelić than plotted to kill him. But, for some strange reason, Jung changed his mind, betrayed Vukelić and informed Kršulj about this plan. Kršulj and Jung than decided to kill Vukelić instead. They brought Vukelić to their apartment under false pretext, subdued him, tied him to the chair and tried to kill him with axe – which had bought for that very occasion – and kitchen knives.

This case continues to profoundly disturbe the small Istrian communities from where all participants in this bloody drama came. One of the people disturbed is author of creative blog, the very same Istrian blogger who happens to be next-door neighbour of Marina Bajlo, Big Brother Croatia finalist. He claims that he went to the same high school class with Dragan Jung and that he simply can’t fathom that.

This incident only shows how small Croatia is. There are very few degrees of separation between entertainment industry glamour and depraved criminal’s infamy.

RTL Televizija news, while reporting on the story, used Reservoir Dogs clips as an illustration. They also brough some lady psychiatrist to comment on the story and she, of course, blamed everything on violent Hollywood movies.

Although most legal experts believe that Dragan Jung will get the maximum penalty – “long term prison sentence” or 20-40 years behind bars, I’m little bit sceptical. With prevailing practice on putting the blame for the crimes on anyone and anything other than people who perpetrated them – and the claims of the psychiatrist mentioned above are perfect illustration – it is very likely the day when Dragan Jung returns on street is going to be as unfathomably soon as unfathomable his crime was.

More Winter Joys

The snow melted rather quickly, but not quickly enough for me to miss this sight – one which is very rare on the streets of Split.

Winter Joys Again

For the second time this year, good citizens of Split experienced snow. Between 5-7 cm of snow created series of traffic accidents, paralysed many businesses and made a lot of children happy.

As you might see, Kozjak is unlikely to serve as movie location today.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Gloomy Valentine

Today was cloudy in Split with occasional drops of rain. In the afternoon rain became heavy and accompanied with strong wind. In short, it wasn’t particularly beautiful day.

It was hard to imagine this day as anything special. All that despite the media relentlessly trying to tie it with the most intimate parts of individuals’ life for commercial purposes.

Today we also saw that some characters took their cue from Al Capone and used St. Valentine’s Day as an excellent opportunity to express some feelings other than love in the most spectacular way possible.

Some characters’ motives for certain Valentine’s Day actions can never be speculated on. Greatest media story in Croatia today is the emergence of a certain MS Excel file on Internet. The file contains names, addresses and cell phone numbers of some 800 men of homosexual orientation. The names on the list, according to site, include prominent actors, ballet dancers, opera singers, but also Olympic athletes, businessmen, politicians and foreign embassies’ officials. Apart from contact information, the list includes some, apparently personal comments and short description of the each of the individuals’ more specific sexual preferences.

Needless to say, the news about the list has dwarfed all brouhaha previously created by Suzana Mančić (Suzana Mancic) story. But, unlike Severina and Suzana Mančić, the people from that phantom list are unlikely to have their intimacy revealed to the public. The Croatian media establishment is going to exploit this story, but not in the way that could hurt some of their own people. So, even if someone finds the list, its authenticity is going to be stubbornly denied by everyone who is relevant in Croatia today.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Dresden 60 Years Later

Judging by the way 60th anniversary of Dresden bombing is marked in Croatian blogosphere, it seems that all those 60th anniversaries are following similar and, to a certain degree, disturbing pattern – historical truth and objective data are again discarded for the sake of contemporary politics and fashionable trends.

Just like the Auschwitz anniversary was good excuse to mention Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, Dresden anniversary will create multitude of rants again USA and its military. Many use that tragedy as another undeniable proof of the inherent evil of US military and diabolic nature of Western leaders. Dresden bombing is portrayed as a war crime and the six-figure numbers of dead civilians are taken as an undeniable fact.

What is even more disturbing is the way that many Limousine Leftists, self-proclaimed defenders of liberal and humanist virtue, take the words of David Irving and his kind as a Gospel.

Whether Dresden was a legitimate military target or whether the bombing helped shorten war are the topics worthy of long debate. And this debate shouldn’t be misused for petty politics, so degrading for the memory of tens of thousands of innocent people who died in Dresden 60 years ago. Nor this incident should be taken out of the context of much larger carnage that was going on in those times.

What happened in Dresden should, in the end, serve primarily as a powerful warning to the world. What happened there should never happen again.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Disturbing Images

Remember Kozjak, the most popular mountain in Croatia I had used to test image-uploading abilities?

Those who want to know why Kozjak became the most popular mountain in Croatia could have seen the brief glimpse of it one week ago in Nightmare Stage, legendary talk show hosted by Željko Malnar (Zeljko Malnar) at OTV, local TV station in Zagreb. Nightmare Stage owed a lot of its popularity to the picturesque and colourful guests, as well as content usually not seen on regular TV stations.

One week ago Malnar used clips from Kozjak, an amateur DV film that had used to be the biggest underground attraction in Croatian history. The film chronicles misadventures of young lady who answers a modelling ad in Split only to discover that she would have to do more than merely posing during the photo shoot at nearby Mt. Kozjak. The film was immensely popular but also very controversial. Many observers wondered whether it was documentary or work of fiction or whether its author – who would later come under criminal investigation for allegedly running teenage prostitution ring – committed what amounted to rape.

In any case, Malnar decided to use clips from Kozjak as a warning to all Croatian would-be supermodels. Unfortunately, some of the clips included very explicit images of activity which isn’t supposed to be shown on Croatian public airwaves. That was enough for anonymous complaint to be sent to Electronic Media Council. That body reacted with threats to revoke the broadcasting license to OTV.

OTV brass, of course, tried to pin the blame on Malnar with whom they would “deal internally”.

While that kind of images threaten OTV or (more likely) Malnar, editorial board of Globus weekly doesn’t think of them as particularly damaging to the psychological and moral health of the nation. On its pages Croatian readers – including minors – were able to see Suzana Mančić (Suzana Mancic) and her former husband Nebojša Kunić (Nebojsa Kunic) engaging in the aforementioned activity. The picture was taken from the infamous home video.

However, there was another, even more interesting image in Globus. On two pages they published photography of justice minister Vesna Škare-Ožbolt (Vesna Skare-Ozbolt) accompanied with short hagiographic text titled “Arm of Justice”. The text suggests that Ms. Škare-Ožbolt might become Croatian President one day.

I’m slightly doubtful towards that because Ms. Škare-Ožbolt lacks one important requirement for becoming Croatian President. Unlike her predecessors, she didn’t spend a day in jail. And, thanks to the action of her Ministry, thousands of people in Croatia were deprived of that experience, including those who were given that experience at the court of law. That also included Stanko Bubić (Stanko Bubic), 31-year citizen of Split who gathered some 30 felony convictions before permanently preventing himself from getting anymore in the most spectacular fashion imaginable.

I guess I don’t have to explain which of the aforementioned images is more likely to make me puke.

Friday, February 11, 2005

“Mothers Don’t Bear Something Like That Anymore”

In 1980 “Mothers don’t bear something like that anymore” was the phrase used by poets, writers and newspapers columnists in order to express their admiration for Josip Broz Tito, leader of former Yugoslavia who had just passed away.

Quarter of century later sports commentator of HRT, Croatian state-run television, used that very phrase to describe Janica Kostelić (Janica Kostelic) after her third, unprecedented gold medal won at the World Ski Championship in Santa Caterina.

After seeing Janica pulling the rabbit out of her hat and beating Tanja Poutainen despite suffering from fever, I couldn’t agree more.earsDoesn'

Thursday, February 10, 2005

[ADMINISTRATIVE] New Blogroll Additions

Three blogs – one in English, one in German and one in Croatian – added to blogroll.

From Past to Future in the Pit

One of the most popular explanations for the late unpleasantness in former Yugoslavia was Balkan populations’ inherent inability to deal with their violent past. Those theories explained long periods of peace and multi-ethnic tolerance with the presence of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes that had kept ethnic tensions in check. Once the authoritarian and totalitarian regimes fell, those tensions allowed Balkan peoples to regress to their natural state and start slaughtering each over real and imaginary grievances in the past.

Western Europe, with more than half a century of peace, prosperity and multi-culturalism – all achieved through democracy – was often cited as anti-thesis of Balkans. Progress of Western Civilisation allowed those nations to achieve level from which any regression to the savage nationalism simply wasn’t possible.

However, some events that occurred lately show that the line that separates “civilised” Western Europe and “savage” Balkans isn’t as thick as most people in both areas of the world would like to believe.

One of those events is a TV movie Il cuore nel pozzo (Heart in the Pit), mini-series shown on RAI, Italian state-run television, few days ago.

The mini-series deals with one dark chapter of former Yugoslav WW2 history which was overshadowed by more spectacular and darker chapters that had occurred eastwards.

While most of ink (and, in 1990s, blood) was spilled over how many Serbs, Croats and Muslims got killed or exiled during WW2, there was and there is still very little talk about fate of some other ethnic groups. That includes Italians who bore the consequences of Italian defeat in WW2.

Prior to WW2, there was significant presence of ethnic Italians on eastern coast of Adriatic – which now comprise Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro. Most of those people, especially in the south, were limited to coastal towns where they comprised business, administrative and cultural elite. In the north, namely in Istria and Maritime Slovenia, there was indigenous Italian population. Between two world wars, those territories belonged to Mussolini’s Italy where the local Slavic population was subjected to Fascist repression and various schemes of demographic engineering.

When Italy capitulated in September 1943, those areas became battlefield between Croatian and Slovenian Partisans on one and Germans and die hard Italian fascists on the other side. In the end, Tito’s army liberated those areas before Western Allies and many ethnic Italians, whether they had supported Fascism or not, were subjected to victor’s justice. It is estimated that after 1947 peace treaty some 200,000-250,000 ethic Italians left territories of former Yugoslavia.

However, there was another, even darker thing that happened in those times. In 1943-45 another word – “fojba” – became common word in local vocabularies. It means the “pit”, which is very common feature of local geography. For Croatian and Slovene Partisans it was very convenient way to dispose of Fascists, German collaborators and anyone they deemed “undesirable” in new Yugoslavia. Nobody knows for certain how many people got killed that way, but estimates range from few to few tens of thousands.

After WW2 any talk of “fojbas” was officially suppressed by Italian government, which wanted good relations with Tito’s Yugoslavia in order to prevent Soviet tanks on their borders. Tito, for his part, returned the favour by suppressing talk about some 50,000 civillians massacred by Mussolini’s troops in former Yugoslavia 1941-43.

The only people who were carrying the torch for people killed in “fojbas” belonged to Italian far right. For them the story about “fojbas” grew into myth, very much like hard-line Serb nationalists used Jasenovac as a rallying cry for their cause. Until recently, Italian far-rightists were harmless and marginalised, but with the arrival of far right parties into Berlusconi’s government everything changed. “Fojbas” and everything else related to the traumatic loss of eastern territories became part of state-sanctioned history.

One example of that is a mini-series which, according to Croatian media reports, gives one-sided and simplistic portrayal of “fojbas” in a manner very similar to the way Serbian writers, filmmakers and intellectuals portrayed WW2 in late 1980s. The mini-series shows how, at the end of war, small Istrian town gets invaded by hordes of rampaging Slovenian partisans who round-up the inhabitants – all ethnic Italians – and then take them to the concentration camp where they would be subjected to beatings, rape and summary executions before mass disposal in “fojbas”. Not a word in the film was said about Fascism and events that preceded this dark chapter of history.

The mini-series created some sort of publicity in Croatia this summer, when it was shot in neighbouring Montenegro. Dragan Bjelogrlić (Dragan Bjelogrlic), popular Serbian actor, who plays psychopathic leader of Slovenian partisans, even gave some statements to Croatian magazines and tried to justify himself by telling how he had tried to “humanise” the character.

I must admit that I was too busy to watch the mini-series. Those who did, however, say the same things that they had said about Jakov Sedlar’s Četverored (Cetverored), probably the most infamous film in the history of Croatia. They describe it as a mix of historic revisionism and incredibly inept filmmaking.

One this film’s details is potentially disturbing. In his Summer 2004 interviews Bjelogrlić claims that he tried to talk the producers into replacing ethnicity of his character or at least some of the Partisans. He said that it would have been more realistic for some of the Partisans to be ethnic Croats. They refused and they stuck with Slovenian-only horde of murdering savages. Which is very peculiar, because Italy and Slovenia are part of the very same European Union. Just like Serbia and Croatia were part of the very same Yugoslavia in late 1980s.

Any similarity between EU and former Yugoslavia – especially when the word “pit” is mentioned – should send you shiver down your spine.